Remembering Jim

It’s hard to believe Jim isn’t here. Hard to believe someone so smart and creative and generous, so full of life, couldn’t have pulled off a last-minute hat trick, a novelist’s surprise ending and stopped that damn cancer in its tracks. But Jim’s stories always had true endings, strong, thought provoking but realistic endings. His characters played out the hands they were dealt with grit and grace. Just as Jim did. Who could have written a character like Jim, plotted a tale like his, or a death that would leave so many great friends so many great memories to mix with their great sense of loss when it finally sunk in that Jim was really gone?… No one. No one would even try.

To say that Jim was a helluva a novelist and a helluva friend just shows that we haven’t yet learned to put our strongest emotions and memories into the right words, the perfect words, for a perfect goodbye. That was always Jim’s project: finding the right words, the perfect words, and then sharing them. A successful project, a successful life. And now it’s our turn.

Jim and I started to work on creating this web site and blog a couple of years ago, but he ran out of time and energy, out of breath. If you want to remind yourself what an amazing writer Jim was just read his short piece on Writing the West on this site. And if Jim’s example inspires you to look for the right words, however hard they are to find, I’d like to invite you to add your memories of our friend to this page in the comment boxes just below.

Lito Tejada-Flores

6 thoughts on “Remembering Jim

  1. Jim is gone but his words and spirit remain, scraped off the boots of his life, and we of the west (and the east for those who choose to pay attention) are enriched, informed and inspired by his person, his spirit and his work. Thanks, Jim. We will do our best to keep on keepin’ on.

  2. This is sort of a test of Lito’s blog site for Jim and the rest of us who’ve known and loved him. I want to see how our comments show up on a blog, never having done this before.
    So I’ll relate an encounter I had with Jim & Tracee when we all lived in Telluride in the mid ’80s. They were living in Matterhorn at the time and Jim had dug a pond beside the house. He was proud of the pond and he wanted some fish in it.
    One day I was snooping around in some wetlands below Trout Lake and came upon them ankle deep, thrashing around in the water. Turns out they had built a little dam to try to trap some brookies to transplant in their pond. I watched in amusement for awhile, suspecting they were knowingly and shamelessly operating beyond the strictures of written law. But it made perfect sense for a guy born and raised in Rico where the only real laws a kid might know were don’t shoot people and don’t steal gold from the mines.
    I went on down to visit, encourage, poke fun and generally check on their success. It was a gorgeous day, perfect temperature, deep blue sky, white puffy clouds—a photographer’s day. And a funny little thing that’s vivid in my memory is that Jim was wearing what appeared to be a brand new pair of running shoes. To me this was testament to the joyous spontaneity of the venture. I pictured them out for a little hike, spying the beaver ponds, the light bulb going on in Jim’s mind—water / beaver pond / my pond / brookies / nice day / slightly illegal… etc, all in a flash, a gleam in his eye. In court a degree of premeditation could have arisen as they had gone home for a seine and bucket.

    ###

  3. Remembering Jim Davidson
    (published in Up Bear Creek, the Telluride Watch, April 25, 2013

    It was with a deep sadness I learned from Jerry Grandey that my old journalism partner Jim Davidson was in the last stages of hospice. He passed away the day before Earth Day, at home in Crestone, in the house he built himself, surrounded by his family.

    He was an amazing man of incredible talent, many interests, incisive wit, great writing chops and a love of newspapers, among other things (like his two kids Greta and Eric and his beloved Tracee Sporer). I don’t think any editor before or since has had such a firm read on the pulse of Telluride. He hung in the Sheridan with the best of them. Learned all the secrets. And kept a sense of humor that blossomed in his editorials and kept all of us on our toes – no one wanted to be the butt of a Davidson poke, making grand fun of something while at the same time slamming home a trenchant point one couldn’t ignore.

    His first published book was a marvelous and terrible story harking back to his personal roots growing up in Rico and Telluride – Mine Work (Utah State Univ., 1999). It won kudos, first novel awards and even received a favorable review in the New York Review of Books – something Ed Abbey was never able to accomplish in his lifetime. Here’s what the Denver Post wrote: “With a tone that is often reminiscent of Hemingway, the author writes a moving tale of not only power and shame but also of redemption. The book is fine reading.”

    Former Tellurider Lito Tejada-Flores has just re-issued this classic novel in a new edition from his Western Eye Press. It’s one of those must-read books if you live in the San Juans. Western Eye Press also published his second novel, Postmarked Calexico (2011), and Jim was working on an unpublished third novel.

    His blog (jim-davidson.org) says this: “Davidson has worked in the mines and on the Ute Indian Reservation. He’s trapped weasel and drawn maps, lived on venison and waited for days for snowplows to free the village from blizzards. He’s watched his hardrock mining father taken down by lung disease and published a number of small town newspapers. He has seen a lot.”

    In 1985 I was editor of the old Telluride Times, having been reluctantly promoted up to that job, after a couple of years as cub reporter, when the old editor left town suddenly. But I wasn’t happy with what I felt was too strong of a “booster” slant to the paper, and grew especially restive when a story on people living in their cars due to the housing shortage in Telluride got bumped from our Thanksgiving issue. It was about that time that Jim, who graduated from high school in Telluride, returned to town.

    He wanted to start a rival newspaper. He had financial backers. He was smart, knew the place, and wanted to make a splash with a paper that didn’t cozy up to advertisers as much as keep the town fathers and mothers honest. But he needed someone with experience to work as managing editor. It didn’t take much to seduce me into that job.

    The San Miguel Journal was daring. It featured full-page cover photos. International reporter (and backer) Mort Rosenblum had a regular column. It took on Idarado and Newmont Mining when the state-driven Superfund lawsuit began, got sued by Ron Allred’s Telluride Ski Company for reporting the truth, and made Telluride a two-paper town that’s continued for the past 30 years. Elizabeth Arnold, who went on to NPR fame, was one of our stringers.

    The name changed to the Telluride Mountain Journal in 1988, and then in 1989 the Journal bought out the failing Times, and we became the Telluride Times-Journal. The paper regularly won awards from the Colorado Press Association. But Jim was not one to grind through a career forever. We have him to thank for bringing Marta Tarbell and Seth Cagin to town, Marta as editor so Jim could pursue his passion for sailing (at the time). Eventually he sold off the Times-Journal to Wick Communications, and moved out to Kansas with his wife, Tracee. For a brief time he came back to town to rescue the Times-Journal, which was in a tough newspaper battle with the Telluride Daily Planet. I became arts editor at that point, and he restored the Times-Journal’s competitiveness. But not for long. He wasn’t a company man, and being an employee was not his bailiwick. He quit and began commuting between a family spread in Kansas and Crestone, where he built a home mostly by himself in Crestone. His focus had become his own writing – putting his life experience into fine prose.

    Through all of that, Jim was my mentor in journalism. He taught me, edited me, growled at me, made me laugh and cry. We worked together under pressure, counseling each other, conspiring, seeking the deeper truths behind the week’s stories. We became friends. I’m going to miss my friend.

  4. We all know Jim for his adventuresome and creative spirit, and his passionate love for the Earth, small animals and his beloved Tracee. He inspired and taught us through his brilliant writing, his curiosity for new experiences in travel, building a home, learning to paint, play guitar, and do photography. He sought out the Truth in any situation, and loved to argue just for the sake of the argument. Like a many faceted jewel, he left different impressions on each of us.

    Perhaps the most poignant time I spent with Jim was last November when Bill and I visited Tracee and him in their Kansas home. After more than two years of intensive chemo and radiation therapies, the doctors had told them that the battle was over, the cancer had won.

    Jim was resting quite a bit those days. On a quiet afternoon, I went into his bedroom where he was propped up on pillows, looking out the window, with his little dog Niko at his side. I asked if I could come in and he said sure. I told him I had questions and he asked if they were of a philosophical nature. I said I supposed they were and he invited me to go ahead.

    I asked him how his life had changed since the cancer diagnosis over two years ago. He was quiet for a minute, then shared that he had always been afraid of death, and now he had no fear of it. He told me he had never been an angry person, and now he was even less angry. He said that life had become much simpler and the things that were really important had been distilled down to a very small number.

    I asked him what those important things were. After another moment of silence, he answered with one word – Love. He then added Kindness, and Making People Laugh. A nurse who administered chemotherapy had recently shared with Jim what an inspiration he was to her and many others at the hospital. She told him that his never giving up and always being able to make them laugh was something she greatly appreciated and respected. He was deeply moved to find that his cancer experience could be an inspiration and teaching to others.

    Jim said that Tracee was the person who had taught him about Love and he was amazed at her capacity for tireless and selfless giving. He also expressed concern for her wellbeing, knowing what a toll the past two years had taken on her.

    We never know where this Journey called Life will take us. Jim rode his Life with passion and determination to the end. As I reflect on what he has been to me – friend, teacher, artist, brilliant thinker, lover of life – in my heart, I take a deep bow of gratitude for all the gifts he gave to me and to so many others. I trust a new door has opened for Jim and know that he is up for the next chapter of exploration and adventure. Bon Voyage, dear friend.

    I also want to thank and acknowledge you Tracee for your courage, commitment and steadfastness during this most difficult time. Your unfathomable compassion and constant availability for whatever Jim needed, was remarkable. In the face of the unthinkable, you offered only Love. To you also, I bow in gratitude. May your path be blessed with love, kindness and beauty in all ways.

    On the day that Jim passed in his beautiful, charming home that he built in Crestone, I sang the following song at his bedside.

    Bright Angel Falls by Susan Osborne:

    And when I let go and fly to the sun
    Take my remains where the wild river runs
    And scatter them there in the dry desert air
    Where the bright angel falls.

    There are times when my spirit, weary and worn
    Longs for the peace of a sweet canyon dawn
    To rise from my sleep, dreamless and deep
    To the canyon wren’s song.

    And then live out my days
    In the ancient ones ways
    Dancing all the ledges, riding all the waves
    Listening to voices through millions of years
    I laugh with their laughter, I cry with their tears.

    And when I let go and fly to the sun
    Take my remains where the wild river runs
    And scatter them there in the dry desert air
    Where the bright angel falls.

  5. How do I possibly capture what I so much appreciated about my friend Jim? Though we reconnected in Crestone, it was in Telluride that I got to know Jim. Both as a journalist when I was the news director for KOTO and then when he was the director for Mountainfilm and I was his assistant. He was older than me–a kind of mentor, someone I admired. He had integrity, a sense of humor, confidence. He knew what was important and he was not afraid to take a stand. Yes, he had confidence, but he was not like other ‘transplants’ from places outside of Telluride who moved into the community with an almost inflated sense of self. Jim had roots in this area. He knew who he was. He was connected to the Place, he belonged here. You could feel his realness, his humility.

    Because of his mining background, he related to those folks who were here before the newcomers. In that way he was a kind of bridge between the old mining community and their way of life—and the new ski community that was rapidly and overwhelmingly taking over the town. I will never forget those nights after town meetings when we would sit in the Sheridan Bar sipping on scotch. Oh yeah! He taught me about scotch–about how it was a sophisticated kind of buzz, different from wine or beer! We would reflect on the evening’s events and talk philosophically about the different viewpoints, determining that our reporting that next day in the newspaper or on the radio would respect each ‘side’ and be a balanced view of the often controversial meetings.

    And Jim was kind. His drive for achievement, for making a difference, never got in the way of his relationships with the people he cared about, the people he worked with. He had that balance. What a gift. He was definitely a gift in my life. He believed in me. As one way of showing that, he passed on the job of Mountainfilm director to me. And when I moved to Crestone, Tracee and Jim included Nan and I in their life there. They offered their home to us when we needed a place to live and always invited us to their festive gatherings.

    I am also grateful to you, Tracee, for your amazing support of a good man. I know from my own experience what is involved to be walking the path with someone who is struggling with life and death issues. It is incomprehensible what is required sometimes. A real testament to Love. So this is an honoring of not only Jim’s memory, but Tracee’s very active and alive spirit who supported him on every step along the way. Bless your beautiful heart.

Leave a Reply